PROUD Scot (@chrisgraham79) pinpoints his best bet from the weekend Scottish Cup action.
Auchinleck Talbot v Ayr | Saturday 19th January 2019, 12:15 | BBC1 Scotland
After all the exhausting naval gazing that goes on with the FA Cup, it's nice to dip into the Scottish Cup this weekend. It's a competition that doesn't take itself too seriously yet ironically still sees the big sides fielding strong teams. After what's been a phenomenal Scottish campaign so far this season this year's renewal should be fascinating. This weekend we reach the Fourth Round.
I'm getting involved with one of the stand-out fixtures of the round as non-league Auchinleck Talbot host Championship high-flyers Ayr.
Talbot have garnered a reputation in recent years for being one of the strongest minnows in the competition. They reached the Third Round in 2009/10 and 2013/14 (narrowly going down to Stranraer after a replay) but trumped that in 2012 by going all the way to Round 4. That campaign they drew Hearts in the last 32 and remarkably only lost 1-0 at Tynecastle, the goal coming as late as the 84th minute.
Saturday's clash with Ayr is their biggest match since that Hearts tie and it's taking place at their cosy 2,600 capacity Beechwood Stadium. The match is a sell-out as you can imagine.
I'm not claiming to have intimate knowledge of junior football in Scotland but Talbot have a decorated history. 12 time winners of the Scottish Junior Cup, four time champions of the West Premiership in the last six years, the part-timers shouldn't be overawed on Saturday. Confidence should be high regardless with the West Scotland side having won 10 of their 12 league matches this season.
It will be fascinating to see how Ayr cope with the claustrophobic feel of Beechwood on Saturday. It's not been a great few weeks for Ian McCall's side. They went five points clear at the top of the Championship on St Andrews Day after thrashing Dundee United 5-0, but since then they've yet to win.
No Shankland, no party?
The key to the drop off in form has been the absence of star striker Lawrence Shankland. The 23 year-old has been injured for Ayr's opening two matches of 2019 and the Honest Men have yet to net. Shankland, 18 goals in 18 league matches this season, won't be playing on Saturday.
Ayr come into this match with no win in five matches and with just one goal in their last four conquests. This looks a horrid match for them to tackle with local rivalry also at stake.
With Ayr hitting a mid-season flat spot and in-form Talbot eager to put on a performance at a rocking Beechwood I'm going to side with the junior side on the handicaps.
I'll back Talbot at +2.25 on the Asian Handicap. Half my stake goes on +2 (money back if they lose by exactly two goals) and the other half on +2.5. Please note, if Lawrence Shankland is on the team sheet on Saturday then kindly delete this article.
Auchinleck Talbot v Ayr – Auchinleck Talbot +2.25 Asian Handicap (19/20 188BET)